It was Mardi Gras week, on the heels of a burst in American travel plus a marathon weekend during a 50th-anniversary celebration. Not to mention my child was two years old, turning three the day before Fat Tuesday.
But we still went to Disney.
It was indeed a magical time despite record crowds and high temperatures (in February?!). I am a true Disney World superfan – having gone a shameful amount of times as an adult. But bringing a toddler to Disney seemed like a completely different beast. My husband and I knew that bringing our daughter would be unlike any of our other trips and an even more special experience. We briefly debated the best age. Of course, we always questioned, “But will she remember it??” We finally settled between 4-5 years old.
However, we were shocked when my brother and sister-in-law came to us a few months ago saying they wanted to go during Mardi Gras 2022. As more immediate family members found out, they quickly joined the travel list. We could see this was going to be a family trip, and one we didn’t want to miss out on. We also couldn’t ignore the fact that our child would be turning three while on the trip. A) How special would that birthday be? and B) She would be able to get in for free since she would still be 2 at the beginning of the trip. It was fate, so we closed our eyes and jumped aboard.
A planner by nature, I wanted to make sure our family trip was completely organized. I immediately began subscribing to all the Disney groups and scouring the web for toddler advice for Disney. I found a renowned Disney Travel Agent who would guide me on the way. (Pro Tip: Disney Travel Agents are free! Do not use one who tries to charge you; Disney pays them for their service). Soon, my dining room began to look like Christmas – boxes everywhere. At some point, I had to stop reading the advice posts because it would only recommend for me to buy something else. Here’s what was a necessity and what you can skip on.
Toddler Needs (and Nots):
Stroller Bag: It was recommended to get a stroller bag for your stroller to check at the gate. The reasoning was your stroller could get really filthy without one. We used it on the way to Orlando with no issue. But we couldn’t use it for the return home due to an ice coffee spill. Honestly, I didn’t know much of a difference. If the germs don’t bother you, you may want to skip on this one.
Stroller Organizer: I didn’t use this once. We originally put it on the stroller, but honestly, we had enough storage with just our stroller naturally. I definitely recommend not purchasing.
Stroller Sign: This was so helpful! Not only are there millions of strollers being used while walking through the parks, parking a stroller is its own challenge. Your stroller will be among a massive sea of other strollers that all look the same. Without a marker of sorts, you may spend too much time trying to locate which one is yours. It also doesn’t help that sometimes the cast members have to move your stroller. This stroller sign was an easy way to find my stroller, no matter how many other strollers were parked near it.
Farm Animals Window Clings: This was a game-changer for our flight! I cannot recommend them enough! These are on a gel-like substance that sticks to the window. She played with them almost the whole time on both flights. I was convinced I would have to resort to screen time at some point if she got too tantrum-y but nope!
Stroller Fan: The Florida Sun is hot, y’all. I, for sure, thought my daughter would enjoy this to cool off. Nope, it didn’t last five minutes. However, your kid might put up with it!
Rain boots: Right before our trip, the weather in Florida was rainy and many were recommending rain boots and rain jackets. I technically had neither. I found these cute ones at Old Navy but stopped short of buying the jacket. Of course, it never actually rained for us so we never needed the boots. However, we now have some in stock for future rainstorms at home.
Bubble wands: You can purchase these at the park if you want, but there isn’t a wide selection. I personally purchased one before we left at shopDisney. But they are a must! It was perfect for us when waiting in line or when your toddler starts to have a meltdown. Whatever you do: Get. The. Bubble. Wands.
Costumes: Don’t forget the princess dresses or superhero costumes! Our kid loved dressing up for Magic Kingdom. It made the day more special.
Anker Power Bank: With the new Fastpass system (called Genie+) available through Disney mobile app, I knew I would be on my phone more than usual. A power bank was a must for us. Funnily enough, since I have a new iPhone, I barely needed to use the power bank, although others in my party ended up using it. It’s still a great purchase and something I will use in the future.
Packing Cubes: I ended up using these more for myself than for my toddler, but I absolutely loved them. They just make packing easier and more organized, especially once you unpack at the hotel room. I plan on using these again for my next big trip.
Everything else you need to know:
- Bring an extra reusable grocery bag folded in your bag. When you need to use Disney buses, your stroller needs to be folded and it can be tedious to have multiple things under your stroller that you must carry. Simply empty it out into your reusable bag and you can easily walk on the bus.
- Hollywood Studios is, by far, the most chaotic park. They have a lot of newer rides that are crowd favorites, so the demand is sky-high. You are going to want to rope drop this park (that means you are there before opening) so you can jump into shorter lines and use genie+ for the other popular rides.
- Speaking of Genie+, do it, do it, do it. Yes, it’s an extra cost, and it’s super annoying since you already paid so much for park tickets. But one thing toddlers’ do not have in mass supply is patience. You are not going to wait 60+ minutes for every ride. This will help you skip a lot of lines and you’ll be happier for it.
- Want to make the day feel extra special in Magic Kingdom? Take a trip to Sir Mickey’s located in the tunnel under Cinderella’s castle. While in the shop, ask the cast members in the front to be “pixie-dusted” and they will do so, leaving some sparkle in their hair.
- Since the Disney resort is no longer offering transportation from the airport to your hotel, you may need to find another car service. Tiffany Towncar is an outstanding service to use, and can come prepared with car seats!
- Food reservations can be challenging to secure at Disney World, especially for the more popular restaurants. However, there is a little secret way to snag some if you need. Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom and Rainforest Cafe and Dinosaur in Disney Springs are part of the Landry’s Select Club. If you sign up for their special rewards club for $25, you will instantly be able to receive priority seating. This means you can visit these restaurants without reservations and expect to be seated for a short wait (up to a party of 6). You also instantly receive a $25 gift card in return so the cost cancels out.
- If you’re looking for the best accommodations for your toddler, I cannot recommend Art of Animation Family Suites enough. My family stayed in the Finding Nemo suites which are decked out in character decor. My daughter loved it! It also was helpful to have our own bedroom, 2 bathrooms, and multiple places for sleeping. You will not regret it!
- Bringing multiple children and toddlers can be stressful. If you are wishing for a fairy godmother to bring an extra set of hands while in the parks or maybe want a few hours of adult time with someone watching your child or children only a short distance away, consider contacting Once Upon a Nanny. All nannies come with an abundance of positive reviews.
There are a couple of fun things about dining at Be Our Guest restaurant in addition to the delicious dinner and enchanting atmosphere. Ask for the “grey stuff” as it is indeed delicious, but they also provide an edible dessert painting activity for your child! Our daughter loved the experience and is one we won’t forget.
I promise not to sugarcoat it: toddlers in Disney in this post-pandemic crowd chaotic-ness is not a walk in the (theme) park. However, the memories made filled our hearts faster than the waiting line at Splash Mountain. Watching our child bond with her cousins and experiencing the magic has created the sweetest everlasting moments. I read one time that you don’t have to wait for Disney until they can “remember it”. It doesn’t stop us from celebrating Christmas every year, right? If they don’t remember it, everyone else remembers it, and these memories will stay will us for a lifetime.
As for me and my husband’s favorite debate of what age is best for a magical experience in Disney? Three was perfect.